Thursday, 25 June 2015

Continuity in transport policy

The BBC has headlined that the Welsh Government will push ahead with the M4 diversion over the Gwent levels in spite of the departure after next year's general election of transport minister Edwina Hart. No doubt they will have increased support from David Cameron, now that he is able to govern alone, on the grounds of its benefits for Welsh business. The FSB in Wales has a rather different view, expressed in that BBC report:

Iestyn Davies of the Federation of Small Businesses said "a £1bn piece of tarmac for around 13 miles" was not a priority for small businesses.

While he agreed the road around Newport was a "bottleneck", he said the money could be better spent elsewhere to support skills or improve transport across Wales.

There was another commitment made by Ms Hart, one which is rather more significant for transport throughout Wales. Rail Wales asserted in its last newsletter that Edwina Hart had in effect endorsed Railfuture's Development Plan* in an interview by Huw Edwards on BBC Wales TV:

She even stated that Network Rail would be an integral component in such a transformation [,] the kind of transformation that we have been advocating for some years, recognising not only the potential improvements this would bring for rail passengers but also the role an expanding network could have in nation-building (her words). For instance, she is thinking hard about Caerfyrddin/Carmarthen to Aberystwyth.

The latter is something that I know is supported by Liberal Democrats in West Wales. The Rail Wales article goes on:

The good news is that, after 2018, it is likely we shall have an interim set-up, much better than what we have now and one which can hopefully lead eventually to the vision as set out by Railfuture Cymru. It was encouraging to hear in the TV programme that Edwina thinks that she and her team have a good working relationship with the Dept for Transport in London - and, contrary to what you might envisage, her feeling is that their mood is not set totally against Wales going it alone eventually and having its own arms-length, not-for-dividend rail company - without interference from Whitehall.

So it appears that Labour is committed to a progressive railways policy. I expect the Liberal Democrat manifesto to go at least as far. Questions will need to be asked of Plaid Cymru (do they still give priority to north-south air links? for instance) and the Conservatives going in to the 2016 election campaign.

* pdf here:

Update: The government has decided to rein back Network Rail's modernisation programme. It is not unduly cynical to note the timing of the DoT's discovery that the programme was over-ambitious, a few weeks after the election. More anon.

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